Red Rooster, Cold Rock stores charged with child labour law breaches

(Source: Red Rooster/ Facebook)

Victoria’s wage watchdog has levelled hundreds of new charges against franchises accused of breaching child labour laws, just weeks before the state overhauls its permit system.

On Monday, ABC‘s 7.30 reported Wage Inspectorate Victoria is pressing 355 criminal charges against the Red Rooster Wodonga franchise, whose proprietors are accused of employing 10 children under the age of 15, without the relevant permit, on 168 occasions.

Additionally, the franchise is accused of letting those children work without a supervisor holding a Working with Children Clearance, employing them for too many hours, and allowing them to work past 9pm.

Separately, the Cold Rock franchise in Shepparton is facing 124 criminal charges relating to the employment of six children under the age of 15.

The franchise is accused of employing those workers for too many hours, allowing them to work past 9pm, and not affording them rest breaks for every three hours worked.

Red Rooster’s head office told the ABC it was “disappointed” to learn of the charges, and that the allegations, if proven in court, represent a breach of its internal code of conduct that could result in the termination of the franchise’s contract.

Cold Rock did not respond to the allegations at time of writing.

The Wodonga restaurant will face court this month, with the ice creamery to front court in June.

In both cases, the maximum penalty for each of the offences is 100 penalty units. This equates to $18,174 for offences in the 2021-22 financial year, and $18,429 for offences in the 2022-23 financial year.

The charges come just weeks after Wage Inspectorate Victoria levelled a similar barrage of charges against the Muffin Break franchise in Southland shopping centre, located in the south-east Melbourne suburb of Cheltenham.

The franchise faces 360 charges related to the unpermitted employment of three children under the age of 15 on 111 occasions, and charges related to alleged lack of qualified supervision, rest break violations, and excessive working hours.

That matter will head to court in June.

Wage Inspectorate Victoria commissioner Robert Hortle said the community will be disappointed to see “household names” like Red Rooster, Cold Rock and Muffin Break facing such allegations.

“These are the type of businesses where many kids get their first job, so people rightly expect them to have a strong focus on creating a safe workplace for kids, which is what child employment laws help ensure,” he said in a statement.

Victorian rules set to change on July 1

There is a patchwork of rules around child employment across Australia, with each state and territory taking different approaches to underage work.

In Victoria, employers must follow specific rules when employing children and young adolescents.

From July 1 this year, small businesses hoping to employ children will need to obtain a licence from Wage Inspectorate Victoria, allowing them to employ multiple people under the age of 15 at once.

Under current arrangements, businesses seeking to hire a worker under the age of 15 must first acquire a permit to do so.

The incoming licence system will replace the permit system, which requires a new permit for each child hired. Businesses that neglect those permits can face fines of up to $18,429 per offence.

Pre-existing permits will remain valid after July 1.

Those young workers must also be supervised at all times by someone with a Victorian Working with Children Clearance, barring certain exemptions for family businesses.

Limits also exist on working hours. The Victorian Wage Inspectorate states:

  • Children cannot be employed during school hours on a school day;
  • During a school term, children can be employed for a maximum of three hours a day and 12 hours per week; and
  • During school holidays, children can be employed for a maximum of six hours a day and 30 hours per week.

Start and finish times are also limited.

For street trading, children cannot start before 6am or sunrise, whichever is later, and they cannot finish after 6pm or sunset, whichever is earlier.

For other kinds of employment, they cannot start before 6am or finish past 9pm.

Businesses hoping to alter those start and finish times can apply for a variation with the Victorian Wage Inspectorate.

Children under 15 must have a 15-minute rest break for every three hours worked, and a gap of at least 12 hours between the end of one shift and the start of another.

Small and family business exemptions in Victoria

In Victoria, some exemptions exist for small family businesses, and work in the entertainment and advertising industries.

For example, parents and guardians do not need a permit to employ their children. Parents and guardians are also exempt from the above rules regarding age restrictions, some hours of work, and rest periods.

“However, parents or guardians must directly supervise their child,” says Victorian Wage Inspectorate.

“If someone else is the child’s supervisor, the family business exemption does not apply.”

Those children must not work during school hours, nor in positions “harmful to their health, safety, development, moral or material welfare”.

Extra checks apply for work in the entertainment and advertising sectors.

While there is no minimum age limit in those fields, employers are still required to obtain permits, Working with Children Clearances, and written parental and school consent forms, among other checks and notices.

Restrictions vary across states, territories

Important variations exist between jurisdictions, granting employers different rights around minimum ages and working hours.

For example, South Australia has no minimum working age, meaning a child of any age may take paid employment, provided it does not interfere with school hours.

Employers in South Australia do not face the same permit system as in Victoria, either.

Queensland has a general minimum working age of 13, which drops to 11 for those working delivery jobs, like a local newspaper route.

In that state, school-aged children can only work four hours after a school day, and a maximum of eight when they are not required to attend school.

Businesses should assess the individual rules for their jurisdiction before employing underage workers.

This story was originally published on Smart Company.

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